Epigenetics and Using Donor Eggs: How You'll Influence Your Baby

June 3rd, 2020
Blog

When someone has struggled to get pregnant for a long time, the high success rates of donor eggs can feel like those first rays of sunlight after a storm.

Donor eggs can provide a renewed sense of hope and opportunity when everything else has failed. Despite this, they may leave parents wanting something they feel they’ll never have—a genetic connection to their child.

Although using donor eggs will give many hopeful moms the extraordinary opportunity to experience pregnancy, you may still worry that your lack of common DNA may make you feel disconnected from your child. To hopefully alleviate this concern, we’ll take a brief look into the science of epigenetics and how you can influence your baby as he or she grows in your womb.

What is Epigenetics? How Does It Relate to Donor Eggs?

In the early 1940s, a scientist named Conrad Waddington defined epigenetics as:

“The branch of biology which studies the causal interactions between genes and their products which bring the phenotype into being.’’

For those of us who don’t spend our days studying the inner workings of biology and genetic code, what exactly does this mean, and how does it relate to using donor eggs?

In simpler terms, epigenetics is how organisms can be altered based on changes to a gene’s expression, even though the underlying genetic code remains the same.

For instance, when one person’s egg is placed into another individual’s uterus, the recipient’s body and various environmental factors can influence the genetic presentation of the original donor’s genetic code.

This means that while a donor egg recipient may not be a direct genetic match to the baby in the womb, they have the opportunity to influence the genetic development of their baby.

How Can a Birth Mother Influence Their Baby’s Genes in Utero?

When discussing genetic expression from within the womb, two different factors come into play: biology and environment. Each of these areas has the potential to modify a baby’s genes in different ways.

Biological Influences

While you may assume a developing baby’s genes “are what they are,” this isn’t exactly true.

A birth parent or surrogate can influence the genetic makeup of a baby, thanks to extraordinary molecules known as MicroRNAs.

MicroRNAs are released within an individual’s womb throughout pregnancy. Serving as receptors between the donor egg recipient and the developing child, MicroRNAs are responsible for influencing the child's genetic expression. 

While it’s impossible to alter your child’s actual genetic code, MicroRNAs and epigenetics help control how those genes develop.

Many scientists, including David J. Barker who developed the “fetal-origin-hypothesis,” believe a baby’s quality of life inside the womb plays a direct role in their development and future health.

By implementing healthy lifestyle choices, such as a well-rounded diet and exercise routine — both before and after conception — parents can have a positive impact on the development of their child’s genes.

Environmental Influences

One of the most significant environmental influences on your child’s genetic expression is stress.

We often hear stressful environments can have an adverse effect on babies in utero. This is no different for children born from donor eggs.

When a birth parent or gestational carrier works diligently to manage their stress and anxiety throughout pregnancy, their effort will be represented in the way the baby’s genes evolve. For those who have a hard time coping with stress, several relaxation techniques may come in handy, including:

  •        Meditation
  •        Acupuncture
  •        Yoga
  •        Exercise
  •        Journaling
  •        Communicating with family and friends
  •        Counseling

Other well-known possible environmental factors that may come into play are the sound of your voice and the music you play. If you’re using a gestational carrier, you may want to send recordings of your voice to be played to your baby in utero. 

Will My Baby Look Like Me?

Hopeful parents using donor eggs often find themselves wondering: Will my baby look like me?

As with any topic concerning genetics, the answer is complicated.

Consider how a child “gets their looks” for a moment. Each of their attributes is composed of the hundreds of thousands of genes that exist within their chromosomes. Every person’s DNA is comprised of 46 of these chromosomes, with 23 coming from each partner or donor.

Based on these numbers, there are approximately 64 trillion genetic combinations that can develop from each individual’s gene pool.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see why there’s no 100% guarantee a baby will look like either source of gametes.

Even if you choose an egg donor who resembles you, it doesn’t mean the genetics will line up to create a baby who looks like you. At the same time, though, they could.

Even when potential parents get pregnant without a donor, there’s no guarantee their child will resemble them. Genetic theory is a lottery. With so many possible outcomes, the final results can feel like a toss-up.

Will I Be My Baby’s ‘Real’ Mom?

After a frozen donor egg cycle, pregnant individuals might find themselves contemplating a significant question: Will my baby think of me as their real mom?

It’s important to remember there’s more to being a parent than a random chain of DNA. In the grand scheme of life, genetic material can almost seem inconsequential.

As your child’s birth mother or intended parent, you’ll absolutely be their “real” mother.

Genetics aside, you’ll bond with your baby throughout pregnancy. Your love will bring them into the world, and you’ll instill in them the values and experiences they’ll use throughout their lives.

If you’re still feeling uncertain about the lack of genetic contribution you provide your child — don’t worry.

Epigenetics teaches us an intended parent has significant control over the person their baby becomes. By making good choices and providing them with a safe, healthy habitat throughout pregnancy, you’ll have a positive influence over the person they’ll be in the future.

You may not be providing your child his or her precise DNA, but that doesn’t mean you won’t play a significant role in how their genes develop.

Epigenetics can be a complicated subject to understand. If you’re still confused about what it means, please feel free to contact the knowledgeable team at Donor Egg Bank USA today for more information. 

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